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Yesterday, I finally got a chance to give a hand to my local animal rescue.  I love animals and I admire the work these associations do (you might remember my article last winter).  However, it is not always easy to help when you have either no money or little free time…  I was thus delighted to have at last the opportunity to give a hand.

The Cork Animal Care Society does a brilliant job.  Anne Fitzgerald, who is one of the main persons working for the association, has a golden heart and works non-stop to help and save the lives of our furry friends.  I am not exaggerating, between feeding the kittens and rescuing animals in trouble she does not really have time for herself.  She has devoted her life to animals.

Yesterday, there was a volunteer fair in Cork and the CACS had a stall there.  Our job was to explain the role of the association and recruit volunteers.  The CACS does not have a rescue site – although they have a sanctuary for feral cats – but there are many other ways to help.  The way they work is that the animals they rescue go to a foster home before being adopted.  This means that the animals are already trained to live in a house and the fosterers know them well, so they can go to a family suited for them.  What this means as well is that the CACS is constantly looking for fosterers, especially in this season when new kittens arrive everyday.  Of course, they are also looking for adoptive family; however, fostering can be a good experience for people who are not sure they can make the life commitment of adopting a pet.  They are also happy when people are able to make a donation (helping to the costs created by such a high number of rescued, and sometimes injured, animals), organise a fundraiser or even just offer a lift (to go to rescue an animal or bring one to the vet).  However, and most importantly you can help the association by being RESPONSIBLE and part of our job yesterday was also to raise awareness about animal rights and the importance of neutering, but also the responsibilities that owning a pet entail.  Let me tell you, this is the most difficult job and the reaction of certain people reinforced what I already thought about Irish society regarding animals, especially cats.

A stray mum with her four kittens, two of them are females who will themselves have a few litters; I let you do the maths!

Neutering is a big problem in Ireland and the number of stray cats swells every year.  This is a sad fact when you know that many of these animals suffer.  It is also an aggravating factor in the spread of diseases.  Thee was a time when I thought how nice it would be to get a female cat and let her have a litter and see the little ones growing up.  Then, I realised how selfish this was.  How could I be responsible for bringing more kittens into the world when so many are suffering and looking for a home?  Nonsense!  If you want to see kittens growing up, get involved as a fosterer as many families are rescued at a young age, some having even lost their mother and necessitating bottle-feeding (a hard job, I guarantee you – you might remember my own experience with Gypsy). 

However, Ireland is very backwards where cats are involved.  I believe this is because farming and fishing are still an important part of the economy.  Although I like this aspect in Ireland, I don’t like the mentalities associated with it.  Cats are not seen as pets in farms, but rather as helpers to keep the mice away.  This is fine to a certain extent, but people need to become sensibilised about the consequences of not neutering.  How often do you hear “Ah sure! They’re cats they’ll be fine!”  No, they won’t; they are animals and deserve to be treated with respect.

Among the arguments I heard yesterday, this one seems the most ridiculous: the man wouldn’t get his male cat neutered because he had had one before and had got him neutered thinking that would prevent him from roaming.  Soon after, the cat went wandering and got killed on the road.  Consequently, the man was putting the blame on the operation.  He wanted to adopt a female cat but said with conviction that he would not interfere: if she were spayed, fine; otherwise, he would let her like that.  Imagine what would happen the day the female would come back pregnant?  Probably drop her on the side of the road…

(By the way, any serious rescue will either neuter the animals before putting them up for adoption or make you sign a form requesting you to get the kitten/pup neutered as soon as he has reached the desired age.)

Cottage Rescue, another Irish association (from whom I adopted Kaos), posted these 10 worst excuses for not getting your pet neutered on Facebook.  It is a good summary of the attitudes of too many people around here:

‎1. Just one litter and then we’ll have Fluffy spayed.
(Studies show that virtually the entire pet overpopulation stems from the “just one litter mentality.)
2. My dog doesn’t run loose, so he doesn’t need to be Neutered.
(Murphy’s Law says o…therwise.)
3. We always find homes for the kittens.
(and that means that an equal number of kittens at the pound will be killed.)
4. I want the children to witness the miracle of birth.
(Rent a video.)
5. My dog is so cute and unique, there should be more of her.
(The shelters and pounds are full of cute and unique dogs, most with only a few days to live.)
6. It’s not natural.
(There hasn’t been anything “natural” about dogs since we began to develop breeds thousands of years ago.)
7. I just couldn’t look my dog in the eye if I had him castrated.
(Watch it, you’re anthropomorphizing.)
8. A female dog or cat should have at least one litter for health reasons.
(Medically, factually and ethically indefensible.)
9. Neutering my dog will make him fat and lazy.
(Too much food and not enough exercise make a dog fat and lazy.)
10. Neutering my pet will change its personality.
(The main influences on an animal’s personality are the kindness and care with which it is raised.)
 

Anne (CACS), John (ARAN) and a pup at the volunteer fair in Cork (Pic: courtesy of Anne)

I really enjoyed doing this yesterday.  Despite being confronted with such backward mentality, I also met people with genuine interest.  I was also glad to meet the like-minded people who were representing the CACS at the fair.  Amongst them was John Carmody.  John is the creator of the Animal Rights Action Network (Aran.ie) and he is a true lover and fighter for animal rights. 

For those who have read this blog before, you might have guessed that I am a bit wary of mass activism or any other big group movement.  I tend to be frightened by ideological messages and the potential power they might have.  However, their cause is good and I am endowed with judgement and can make my own opinion about their actions and which I want to support.  I tend to strongly believe in the impact one person can have around her (you know, every little bit counts and adds up), but I am also aware that a group is stronger than an individual and groups defending a good cause need all the support possible to make a difference.

I was only vaguely aware of ARAN, but listening to John talk made me realise what they do – I guess meeting a human being rather than seeing a name on a webpage had an impact on me (see, the power of individual interaction works!).  They defend all causes related to animal rights.  They organise events to raise awareness, such as talk in schools, but also take action to get their message across and provoke reaction.  One of their actions involved women wearing fur coats and lying on the pavement with blood on them; a shocking action to an atrocious crime.  As a result of one of their campaigns, one major department store in Ireland, Brown Thomas, stopped selling fur.  Other causes they defend include the massacre of seals and the exportation of greyhounds to China.  I have joined their network and will follow closely what they do in order to offer my support when I can (by the way, they welcome supporter from anywhere in the world).  If you want to learn more, take a look at their website and read this interview.

Overall, this was a productive day and I enjoyed doing something for a cause I truly believe in.  The CACS has a website and a page on Facebook where you can follow all their updates (although there are sometimes too many to be updated) and you will see that I am not lying when I say they do an incredible work.  Try to look for your own local rescue and see how you can help them (be careful, some are scams).  But most importantly, act as responsible human beings and treat the animals with kindness; they are more genuine than many human beings.

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This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

Funnily enough, after sharing thoughts and ideas with you for the past 28 days, I do not feel as excited about the Earth Hour as I was.  I feel that it is still an important event and I will take part, but more important things have been mentioned in the past 28 days.

Earth Hour is becoming a huge event and they are also trying to encourage people to go beyond the hour.  They have posted ideas and reactions everyday and, in my opinion, some of them have lost touch with what Earth Hour is about.  I don’t think that the person who is going to row across the ocean is going to make a huge difference; it is a brilliant symbolic action, but not a practical one.  As often with events that get too big, I start to lose connection.  This does not mean that I don’t believe in what I have said, but I just tend to get overwhelmed when events get such mediatic coverage.  On the one hand, I want to cheer because it seems to touch more people, but on the other I feel wary because it seems to be losing some of its ethics through mediatisation.

As I have said at the beginning of this series, I like to work on a small scale.  Of course I would like to see the big picture change, but I have no power whatsoever to do so, not directly anyway.  I’m just glad if my posts have made you think and have touched a few people who will in turn touch more people.  I know that for me, it has made a difference: I have thought even further about what I can do in my daily life and I have reflected on issues I hadn’t necessarily thought about before.

We will never live in a perfect world, let’s be realistic about this.  Yet, I don’t want to give up on hoping and believing that we can make a difference, because if I do there is no point in living anymore.  I just hope that we can make some changes that will mean leaving a better planet for the generations to come.

I want to keep believing in this!  Therefore, I will keep making conscious decisions.

One of the drawbacks of such an event is that people believe that by turning the lights for an hour they actually make a difference to our environment.  Others might do it just to have a good conscience.  As I have said before, I think Earth Hour is a symbolic action, one through which we become aware and we say “I want to make a difference”.  However, it is by no means sufficient and it needs indeed to go beyond the hour, as the organisation is now emphasising.  It is like people who say they are green because it is cool, but would not bother to recycle; this really gets me down.  Being eco-friendly should not even be a word, it should be our regular way of living and we should not think of it as anything special. 

I have realised that there will be very few switches I will need to turn off this evening.  When I did it the first time, I went around the place a few times to make sure I had turned off everything.  However, this has become such a habit that I will only need to switch off the fridge, my computer and the light in the room where I am.  It does not feel as drastic and will thus feel more or less like a regular evening.  I will make the fire and light a few candles.  I will read a book, or maybe write down a few thoughts or, even better, a letter.  It has been a long time I haven’t written one of those…

What are you planning to do for Earth Hour?

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

Thanks to all who have commented, shared thoughts and new ideas.  Here are a few of them.

Initial readers’ responses:

“Like many people, I tend to be cynical. I don’t mind turning off the lights but hey, government buildings in Ottawa never do and you see lights everywhere in the city!

That said, I get the point. Maybe I’ll participate this year. I should be less cynical, like you said, it’s a symbol.” (Zhu)

“I look forward to . . . realizing something new, to learning more, and to becoming even more conscious and committed.” (Steph)

Regrets:

“I do try to be more “green” in every day’s life but it’s not an easy battle to fight in North America. For instance, I’d love to have less garbage but everything comes wrapped in plastic, more plastic, and then another layer of plastic! Give me back my plastic bags (I use them as garbage bags instead of BUYING more plastic bags!) and think about products’ packaging instead…!” (Zhu)

“What drives me crazy is people who keep on watering the lawn even though it is going to rain. Oh, and these hose spray more pavement than grass too.” (Zhu)

“One of the things I find fascinating about our interests with the creatures we endanger or bring to extinction is that human kind tends to feel guilt and is driven with regret when the creature is large and majestic. No one feels as guilty when a species of frog or fish goes extinct.” (Dragonfly)

“I love traveling and my heart breaks when I realize some places I’m going to are changing because of global warming or because the are polluted, overcrowded etc. That speaks to me. My love of traveling is a good way to embrace a greener life!” (Zhu)

Further thoughts and taking action:

“I think the thing to do is figure out who we know in business or industry or commerce or any kind of institution who can be persuaded to join in. My college regularly has green days, in which everyone makes a special effort to save energy. I will check whether our domestic bursar knows about Earth Hour and see how to involve the whole college. The best kinds of effort involve the biggest groups of people, I reckon.” (Litlove)

“Like this, my immediate tip is towards transport, as a keen cyclist I’m going to suggest more use of the vehicle, & I do mean vehicle not child’s plaything that one grows out of. We’ve all heard the argument about most trips being minute so I don’t need to harp on about that, but in an integrated transport system, a wonderful key to locking the system together is a bike.” (Parrish)

“so many kinds of birds, insects, frogs, fish become extinct every year and we don’t notice or don’t care. These larger mammals maybe have more of a connection to us, but either way they become like poster children don’t they. No one would be very impressed if you decorated your state licence plate with an extinct beetle, would they? We should make more of an effort to do that though. Education!!” (Shannon)

“It’s impossible, I believe, to save this planet without being in awe of it, without appreciating it, and most importantly without loving it and its creatures. And that comes through education, as you say. It’s such a tragedy that species go extinct, and I wish I could say it was unbelievable, really, but it’s not. And it’s a testament to just how great an effect we have on earth.” (Steph)

“I think garbage bins should be more readily available.” (Zhu)

“It’s not just a political statement or a sense of stewardship or love, or even just that meat is unnecessary for survival. Significantly, not eating meat makes a massive contribution to the environment. I don’t know the exact facts, but the environmental impact that our raising and eating meat has is enormous. I think it might have been Paul McCartney who said he calculated that we could eradicate world hunger if everyone chose not to eat meat, something to do with how much grain it takes to feed a cow…? Whatever it was I read was very convincing, anyway. There’s lots of info on the topic of vegetarianism or veganism and the environment.” (Steph)

“I do think we eat too much meat, much more than we need. Previous generations didn’t I think.” (Zhu)

“I don’t understand people who eat microwave meals. They look yucky, probably don’t taste great, have poor nutrition and are expensive. I usually make a big salad for the week with rice, corn, tuna, tofu, tomatoes and avocados and bring a bit to work everyday. Beats my co-workers microwave food!” (Zhu)

“That’s my failsafe: if anything is going, it all goes in a soup! Which we can also freeze. Throwing out food makes me feel terrible. I avoid it as much as possible. At least it goes in the compost, but still. The waste really bothers me.” (Steph)

“I agree that a lot of purchases people make are more in the “want” category than in the “need” one. Especially in North America, where buying is almost seen as the patriotic thing to do.” (Zhu)

Being eco-friendly in Canada:

“We are lucky, Canadian homes are well-built and keep the heat in. Plus, heating is expensive so we are used to blankets and soups to make us warm” (Zhu)

“In Ottawa, we have two bins, collected every other week. Black bin is paper, blue bin is plastic and metal. I recycle the paper, the cans (I drink Coke) and the biggest chunk of plastic, such as yogurt tubs.” (Zhu)

“It doesn’t rain so much in Canada (compared to Nantes) but I should definitely collect rain in the summer to water my plants.” (Zhu)

“Ottawa’s public transportation kind of suck. I mean, let’s face it, unless you live on the transitway (the express way), it’s a pain to get from point A to point B. We couldn’t live without a car, we need it to go shop, go to work…

We also only have one car, which is quite unusual here: people have two cars, sometimes even three (for the kids).” (Zhu)

“In Canada, we have “butt-stop bins” handy in most places. But you should see when the snow melts… it reveals a lot of garbage and litter underneath.” (Zhu)

“Canada is reasonably clean and convenient with plenty of bins and “butt stop” bins.” (Zhu)

“It’s a bit hard to eat local here all year, but in the summer we grow a veggie garden and it’s the most awesome thing to just take your plate out and fill it with a salad! Unfortunately, most of our stuff gets eaten by rabbits and such before we get to it. Annoying, really!” (Steph)

In France:

“I hate garbage cans in France, you know, because of the plan vigipirate most are closed and you can’t find another bin for kilometers. I was shocked how dirty Paris was last time I was there…” (Zhu)

“Nantes has an awesome public transportation system and we were really spoiled. The Tramway is great!” (Zhu)

In Australia:

“I saw a lot of stickers to save water in Australia, I think it’s the driest continent on earth. That said, it was flooded when we were there! Toilets also always had two flushes, you know, one for #1 and one for #2. These flushes were actually invented in Australia. But honestly, I found they didn’t work very well and didn’t flush much.” (Zhu)

In Singapore:

“In Singapore, where littering is heavily fined, it was very hard to find bins. Weird!” (Zhu)

In Chicago:

“I’m a big fan of public transportation out here in Chicago. It helps that everything is so close and most places are within walking distance, but not having a car is such a relief for me. It helps the environment and gives me extra time during my commute to read” (Short Story Slore)

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

There are many associations involved in the protection of the environment. Greenpeace and WWF (who are behind the Earth Hour) would be the first to come to mind, but there is also Avaaz, an organisation actively involved in questions related to the environment and human rights. They keep you informed and organise petitions, often asking for the public assistance to support various important causes. You can subscribe to their email feeds and receive all their updates.

The Earth Hour organisation has also tried to go beyond the hour; you can check what celebrities and countries are willing to do on the Earth Hour blog. They have also created a page on which the public can make a pledge in order to go beyond the hour in proctecting the environment. This is a good place to find inspiration, as well as a place to publicly make a pledge for the action you decide to take.

In their March Newsletter, Eco-Libris (see their blog) suggest that all of us book readers should plant a tree. This is something I have often felt guilty about as I buy many books and prefer to read works on paper than on a screen. This is thus an idea that appeals to me, but where should I plant my tree?

For those of you speaking French, here is a blog (no longer active but still accessible) offering many green ideas for your cleaning.

Read this article about a town in Germany in which inhabitants take recycling very seriously. I personally still find their fees quite high and wonder if in other countries it wouldn’t encourage people to dump their rubbish on the side of the road as I have often seen it done in Waterford.

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

Today a guest blogger is joining me.  Brigid blogs from Australia @Kookaburra about well being and how yoga and meditation can help us in everyday life.  Today, she explains how yogic ideas can also be helpful to protect the environment around us.

“My sister and I headed out early yesterday morning, optimistic about meeting our objective for the day: to track down a perfect wedding dress for my sister’s upcoming wedding. To be perfectly honest, I was really looking forward to having a justifiably good reason to spend a whole day in retail heaven. Not that I needed to justify this to anyone else, only to myself, because I’d decided at the beginning of 2011 to spend less time in vapid, time-wasting, resource-squandering pursuits like shopping, and for the most part I’ve managed to honor this intention. At times it has been a struggle. Yesterday though, with the wedding dress as justification, I could browse to my heart’s content.

As my sister and I wandered from store to store, we started to talk about how, although we didn’t need to buy anything, and actually didn’t want to make any purchases other than a wedding dress, we were starting to feel that pull: that desire to go into shops, to succumb to the lure of the beautiful objects in the windows, the signs announcing the last days of a sale. It was all subtly working on our minds, planting the seed that perhaps we actually did need something. After a few more hours of shopping, the quiet urge to buy something had turned into something louder and more desperate. Not only did we want to buy things, we wanted to buy them NOW.

What is this desire we have as humans? This void that makes us chase happiness in things, in acquiring ‘stuff.’ No matter how much we already have in our lives, our thoughts tell us we are lacking somehow; that we’d be just a bit more content if we bought the newest iPod, a later model car, a bigger house. Most of us have far more stuff than we will ever need, and yet the drive to acquire more thrums away below the surface. Spend some time later today rummaging through your cupboards and drawers. How many things can you find that you’ve either never used, or have hardly used at all? Many of us have hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of goods that we don’t really need. When I moved from Australia to Canada last year, I had to pack up all of my possessions and couldn’t believe how many unworn clothes, barely-used kitchen appliances and unread books I owned. But that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to buy more.

As we approach the fifth Earth Hour on Saturday 26th March, I feel that this human desire for ‘more’ is worth taking a look at, as it is a contributing factor to the detriment of our environment. It may not be obviously bad, like leaving the air conditioning on while you’re out at work. It’s subtle, and fairly socially acceptable. Yet the process of producing new things to replace the perfectly good things we already own is a producer of pollution, a guzzler of fossil fuels and major creator of waste. 

When it comes to unnecessary consumption, I don’t mean to suggest that the fault lies entirely with us as individuals. The power of advertising has been acknowledged for many years, and companies will go to great lengths to bombard us with reasons to buy new products. But how is it that advertising can work on us? Why are we so susceptible, even in cases where we would really prefer to save our money for important things? We just keep chasing happiness, looking for a cessation of negative thoughts through purchasing more things.  

After fifteen years as a student of yoga, I believe that yogic philosophy can shed some light on why humans are always chasing more. Yogis have studied the workings of the human mind for thousands of years, and their findings are as applicable today as ever. Rather than being simply a tool to help us make our way through life, the mind is a thought-generating machine that rarely stops. This is wonderful when we have a problem to solve, but when the mind has nothing real to work on, it continues to produce thoughts, and they are not always helpful. The mind’s role as problem-solver means that when it turns its attention to our lives, it cannot help but look for areas needing improvement. If no improvement is needed, it will tell you it’s needed anyway. This is why beautiful people are never beautiful enough, rich people never feel rich enough, intelligent people with innovative ideas are plagued by doubt. 

Spend a moment thinking about your own thoughts. What kinds of thoughts do you have on a regular basis? How often do your thoughts tell you that you are fortunate, that you are a very lucky individual? And how often do you have thoughts that something’s not quite right, that your life is lacking somehow, that things would be okay if only you could improve a little, or had nicer things in your life? Most people find that their thoughts fall heavily on the side of discontent. Yogic wisdom tells us that this is what it is to be human, and that everyone with a mind – in other words, everyone on earth – has a tendency to feel this way. There’s nothing wrong with us, it’s just the nature of the mind. When looking at it from the yogic perspective, we can see how the messages from the outside world, coupled with the messages our minds send us, make it very difficult to feel contentment for any length of time. One of the ways in which we try to find contentment is to fill our lives with ‘stuff’.

If almost everyone is affected by these kinds of thoughts, what can we do about it? Yoga suggests that we can stop taking our thoughts so seriously. The yogic view is that “our thoughts are not reality,” meaning that we don’t have to believe everything our minds tell us. Thoughts that we do not have enough, that we need to consume in order to feel happier do not necessarily contain any truth. Just observing the thought, rather than acting on it, may even result in it disappearing. Learning to take each and every thought with a grain of salt is one of the goals of yoga, and a key way to live a healthier and happier life.  And learning to quiet the voice in our head telling us to buy our way to happiness is good for our well being, good for our bank balance and good for the environment!” 

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

The Christmas after I moved into my house, my little brother got me this wonderful little book.  My brother is a funny fellow, but there is one thing I can say about him: he is great at choosing the perfect books for me.

John Seymour, the author of The Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency, which is edited by Will Sutherland, set up his own self-sustainable farm in Ireland in the 80s.  In 1992, he founded a School for Self-sufficiency with the help of his wife.  Since Seymour’s death his project has survived through the work of his wife and Will Sutherland.

This book has an agreeable format and is illustrated with old-fashioned drawings.  It will introduce you to various techniques and crafts that will help you to be more friendly to the environment in your way of living. 

To begin with, there is a chapter devoted to the meaning of self-sufficiency.  The next chapter is subsequent and discusses food from the garden.  This chapter introduces you to various growing methods, as well as varieties of vegetables and herbs.  It also introduces you to what you should do in your garden according to the seasons.  The next chapter focuses on foraging and how to keep animals for food. 

There is also a chapter dedicated to recipes and various methods you can use in the kitchen.  You can learn in it how to store, preserve, freeze and bottle.

Another chapter is dedicated to energy and waste.  Finally, you are introduced to various crafts and skills, such as basketry and building.

This book can act as a reference book or as a way to inspire you.  It is handy to use as each chapter has numerous sub-headings that will help you to find the information you look for easily.

Although not everything might be relevant to you, it is an interesting book to dip in.  It will assist you in beginning to become more self-sufficient and you will most certainly learn many eco-friendly techniques from it.

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

In the posts of these past few weeks, I have often mentioned ways to be more eco-friendly in the kitchen: recycle organic matter, use cooking water to kill weeds in your garden, don’t leave appliances plugged, leave your oven door open after baking to heat up the house, make sure you buy food in recyclable packaging, reuse food containers, use vinegar as a cleaning product, etc. 

How much we waste and our way of consuming strike me as real ills of our society.  We live in a fast paced society and everything seems to have become convenient.  As a result, people have taken bad eating habits, especially if they eat alone.  They tend to eat microwavable meals that are individually packaged.  If you have read my previous posts, you might guess what I think about them.  First of all, such meals, more often than not, contain GM ingredients and knowing about their provenance is near to impossible.  Furthermore, individual packaging, which are not always recyclable, create a uncessary amount of waste. 

I live alone; however, this does not prevent me to eat “proper” food.  Buying in bulk is often cheaper and involves less packaging waste.  It is easy then to portion the food yourself (by using those plastic food containers you have preciously kept) and freeze it.  Make your own meals and then portion them yourself.  It is a much healthier habit and so much friendlier for the environment.  Use the local veg you’ve bought at the market and make a big stir-fry, for instance; it will usually keep for a few days in your fridge and will only take a couple of minutes to heat up.  Rather than buying individual chocolate bars, bake a cake and eat it through the week.  Convenient food has in fact become inconvenient by the impact it has on the planet.

We also throw so much food away.  Fruits and veg can be a problem if you don’t eat them fast enough.  However, they are ways to use them up even if they are a bit soft: make a soup or a compote and freeze them in individual portions.  It is easy and becomes your own convenient food with products you have chosen.

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

As I discussed yesterday, your garden is a great place to start making a step towards helping and preserving the planet.  By growing your own veg and herbs, you can make a huge contribution to preserving the planet, as well as being sure to know where your food comes from and how it has been produced.

However, one is soon faced with problems: how to fight against various types of pests without using chemicals.  This is an area in which I am still experimenting and I haven’t found the perfect solution, but here are a few ideas.

Chicken wire over the veg patch

I have four cats and they have become my biggest problem when putting young plants in the ground.  No matter how much I love them, I don’t want to see them destroying my young plants by walking on them.  They love freshly-turned earth and will tend to go scratching and relieve themselves there, which drives me mad!  I have tried many things, amongst them citrus peels and ground black pepper, but these don’t seem to have any effect.  For the veg patch, I use some chicken wire on top of it, at least until the plants are strong enough, but it still remains a problem when I plant different varieties at different times.  I have also tried to put sticks around plants.  It kind of works if I put enough of them and if they are quite high, but it is quite tedious.  I must admit that I am a bit stuck for new ideas.  I read somewhere to make a chilli-based paste, so I might try that this year.  Do you have any other ideas?

Other big enemies in the garden are slugs.  They eat everything and have often destroy many of my plants, especially when young.  I now try to keep the young plants a bit longer inside, so that they are already strong when I plant them.  Again I have tried a few things: beer and coffee will attract them, so that might keep them away from your plants, but you cannot be assured that they will not go on them.  Seaweed can be an option and it is also a fertiliser; however, you need to use it sparsely as too much is not good for plants.  I have tried broken eggshells; I am still not sure if it worked or not.  A piece of plastic bottle is apparently effective, but I am not totally sure either.  I have also tried to spray the plants with water infused with garlic (apparently it also works against other pests), but I remain skeptic.  This year I will try copper tape around pots and the veg patch; I tried it last year, but didn’t do it properly.  The thing is that I tend to try everything at the same time and never figure out which solution works best.  My main problem is with the courgette plant as it is in the middle of the garden and so spread that the slugs will usually find their way on it.  Any suggestions?

I haven’t experienced many problems with other pests or maybe I am just not experienced enough at identifying them.  I know that you should not plant beans two years in a row in the same place.  Planting onions or chives will also keep certain aphids at bay. 

Steph mentioned that her problem is with rabbits, which is something I don’t have to worry about with my four cats.  I know certain people who actually got cats in order to protect their plants from rabbits!  Maybe protecting the plants with chicken wire would help?

I have never used fertiliser for any of my outside plants and veg.  However, when I get the ground ready, I use my homemade compost mixed with a bit of seaweed.  Making your own compost bin is fairly easy and you don’t need an elaborate one if you have a small garden.  Just make a square with a few planks and divide it in two so you can alternate every year.  This will also allow you to recycle organic matter.

Homemade compost bin

Weeds can also become a nightmare and pulling them out can use a lot of your time.  The best is to do it regularly and when the weeds are still young.  However, if you want to get rid of weeds before you have planted anything in  the ground, you can pour boiling water on them, preferable the one you use for cooking in order not to waste any water.

Finally, make sure you water your garden in the evening, once the sun has set down.  Try to collect as much rain water as possible.  It has also been suggested to me to collect the water at the beginning of your shower or bath when it is warming up; it shall try that!

Water tank

You will find your own techniques in order to be eco-friendly with your garden.  I would be glad if you could share them with me!

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

The other day, I highlighted a few food issues and particularly the fact that we should make informed decisions about what we eat.  I discussed this issue further yesterday by suggesting to shop locally or at the market, where it is easier to know about your food’s provenance.  There is another way to know where your food comes from and it is by growing it yourself.  You might not be able to grow everything, for climatic or space reasons, but whatever you grow will supplement what you eat and the money you will save can thus be spent on better quality products at the market.  I started growing my own veg two years ago.  Food shopping that summer was only minimal because I would eat a lot of my own veg and would buy nearly everything else at the market, such as lovely local cheese and eggs.

Chillis

The first thing you can grow, even if you do not have a garden, are herbs.  I have always been horrified by the price of herbs and the packaging involved.  Most of the time, you buy a few stems packed in a huge plastic box and they only last a couple of days.  It is not difficult to have a small herb garden or a few pots of your favourite herbs on your window sill.  Most herbs will not even require much attention and can survive cold-ish winters. 

I think that the only herb I have never managed to grow is basil, but I will try again this year and I am determined to succeed because I love basil!  On the other hand, I was quite proud to have managed to keep these chilli plants for a few year, and the chillis got hotter with time.

Now I have also planted camomile and lemon balm, which come handy for medicinal purposes or simply if you like infusion.

What you can do, is freeze or dry those herbs to have your own stock for the winter.  Some gardening books will give you explanations about the various processes to keep herbs. 

Parsley growing in a window-sill pot

Parsley thriving in the middle of winter

Herb garden the first year

Herb garden two years later

It survived the winter despite minus temperatures

If you have a small garden, growing veg can become a bit of a problem, but a veg patch does not necessitate that much space if you organise it properly.  For instance, you can plant radishes in between plants that need more space to grow.  The first year, I made the mistake to plant courgettes in the patch, but the plant ended up taking a lot of space.  Now, I plant it in the garden. 

Temporary veg patch

Getting more organised

Some veg, such as chard, can also be decorative and thus fulfil two purposes at once.  Also, if you need more space in your patch, you can always plant salads in a box as they don’t necessitate much depth.

Chard, decorative as well as tasty

You learn with time what works best for you and experimenting can be fun.  For instance, I find dwarf beans very handy; they don’t require much attention, don’t need much space, but give a lot of beans.  I also have a wild strawberry plant, which is very resistant, grows on its own and gives very tasty fruits.

Young wild strawberry plant, I kept it for a few years in a pot until I owned my house

It is even bigger now!

Looking after your veg can take a little bit of time, but not more than going to the shop to buy veg on a regular basis, and it is so rewarding.  I had never eaten a courgette so tasty (I was very proud of my courgette plant)!

Baby courgette

They take space but are so tasty!

I hope this year to manage to grow a few winter veg as well.  We will see how I get on…

Another way to get your food for free is to go foraging.  It is amazing what nature can give us in the wild.  And if you live by the sea, the seashore will provide you with a lot of shellfish (I love periwinkles, for instance!).  And for the most courageous, rent a boat and go fishing.  You will have a fun time and, if you’re lucky, you might get a catch that lasts you for a little while if you have a freezer!

A good catch!

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

I was talking yesterday about the food choices we face in our daily life.  I don’t know if it is also the case where you live, but in Ireland we have seen a resurgence of farmers’ markets.  Markets and local shops are one of the best ways to know where your food comes from (although you still need to be cautious), but in our societies they are not readily available anymore. 

I remember when growing up in France, going to the market was just a thing people did.  There was a covered one open every day of the week (it still is, I think) in the city centre and, then, each district would have a weekly or bi-weekly market, so it was possible to buy the most part of your shopping from those markets.  Most of our food would come from the market and, when it wasn’t, we would often get it from local specialised shops: la boulangerie, la boucherie, la charcuterie and so on.  However, these shops have increasingly been replaced by supermarkets and going to the market has become a special outing rather than a way to shop.

Supermarkets have killed local production: they import or, when they buy locally, it is at discounted prices, making it difficult for local producers to survive.  As I told you, I spent most of my holidays; for the first thirteen years of my life, on a farm.  This farm was self-sustainable, they used to produce and sell eggs, milk and cereals, but also had their own veg, rabbits and one pig to feed the family.  I went to visit the farm again a few years ago.  It had drastically changed and their production was limited to cereals and gone were all the farm animals; it broke my heart.

Now, farms have become specialised and consequently sell in huge quantity, which, of course, has negative effects as they try to produce more (leading to situations in which they use chemicals or have battery chickens, for instance) to be able to survive when faced with prices that are broken down.  We have replaced quality by quantity.

Some of these farms are struggling but are still alive and this is why I find it so important to support them.  You can find small producers on markets, but also in your local shop where you will be able to buy potatoes (a typical Irish example) from a particular farm, for instance.  Even better, try to visit those farms; it is always nice to know where your food comes from and you will often get it at a cheaper price.

There is something I have remarked though on Irish markets: their prices are fixed and it can be difficult to get a bargain.  In France, markets open at about 7 am (or used to, anyway).  Early risers would get the best products, but late comers would get all the bargains – two for the price of one – as producers would try to get rid of the day’s products in order to welcome fresh ones on the following day.  This is something I also encountered in Ottawa.  I happened to pass the ByWard market just before the stalls were put away and got some lovely red fruits from Quebec at fantastic prices.

ByWard market in Ottawa

Now, there is another choice I am confronted to when I am at the market, or the supermarket for that matter.  Organic or local?  The choice is quite difficult.  Ideally, I would choose both, but this is not always an option.  There are a lot of things to take into consideration and we are not always in a position to make an informed decision. 

Organic stall at Mahon Point market in Cork

Maybe the first thing to be aware of are the laws of your country.  Obtaining the organic label is not always easy.  I know some farmers around here who still do not have the label when they are actually producing organically.  The second thing that strikes me is that the food might be organic but coming from far away: transportation and how it is preserved are elements to be taken into account.  Therefore, I generally prefer local products and I might extend that to European products if those cannot be grown in Ireland.  At least, that way, you help your local economy and you might have more chances to know exactly where your food comes from.

Another thing I love in markets is that you are able to taste and see the food you are about to buy (and it saves on packaging as well).  These are little, often forgotten, pleasures.  I actually like going to the market with my empty egg box and refill it again and see slowly my bag getting filled with products I have been able to carefully choose.

I have found that shopping at markets is actually not as expensive as it might appear at first and I like the idea that the same people might then come to spend their money in the restaurant I work in…

Atwater market in Montreal

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